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Skin a Cat review at the Vaults, London – ‘frank, fresh and funny’

Lydia Larson and Jassa Ahluwalia in Skin a Cat at Vault, London Lydia Larson and Jassa Ahluwalia in Skin a Cat at Vault, London. Photo: Richard Lakos

There are some things people still don’t talk about much. Sex isn’t one of them, not these days. But if you’re not having sex, if you find it painful or uncomfortable or distasteful, that’s something less often discussed. Isley Lynn’s frank and funny new play Skin a Cat explores how upsetting and isolating it can be when something which gives most people pleasure is a source of pain and anxiety. Alana has vaginismus, a psychosexual condition that makes penetrative intercourse almost unbearable. Lynn’s play is eloquent and insightful about the pressures people place on themselves, not just to have lost their virginity by a certain age, but also to conform in other ways when it comes to sexual experience. Frequently hilarious, it’s also refreshingly honest and open in its discussion of menstruation, masturbation, oral and anal sex, and might well be the smartest, sharpest piece about female sexual identity since Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag.

There are some absolutely cracking performances here too. Lydia Larson is sympathetic and emotionally nuanced as Alana and she’s more than capably supported by Jessica Clark and Jassa Ahluwalia (building on superb recent turns in Rotterdam and Piranha Heights respectively) as Alana’s various friends and lovers. The pacing of Blythe Stewart’s production slows a little in the last lap and the joke count also winds down as it becomes clear that there’s no easy fix for Alana, but it hardly matters – there’s something so rousing and refreshing about the whole production; this is bold and genuinely exciting new writing which deserves to have a life beyond this short run.

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Frank, fresh, funny and disarmingly candid play about one woman’s sexual identity